EVs Are Online Stars, Less So in the Real World

Back when Tesla launched the Model S in 2012, the mere notion of a luxury EV that looked cool, was fast and had decent range was unheard-of.
Renault Zoe 1 photo
But now it’s nearly 2020 and even if the established automakers took their time before they jumped on the EV bandwagon, they have finally done so, offering models that not only compete with Tesla’s offerings, but ones that have also penetrated market segments where Tesla is not currently present.

Whereas a few years ago, if you wanted a small city EV your options were limited and pretty much all dreary and uninteresting, this is no longer the case. You can buy a spritely all-electric BMW these days, the i3, that blends great performance with decent range - it doesn’t look that appealing, according to some who claim that it strengthens the stereotype that electric vehicles don’t sell because they’re designed to look different, but it drives great.

And the i3 is one of the world’s most popular electric vehicles because it’s a genuinely good, usable and interesting car. It’s not the only desirable small EV, though, because Renault makes the Zoe which after its recent refresh no longer makes you feel like sitting in a portable toilet with a steering wheel in front of you.

The Renault Zoe facelift looks quite good, both inside and out, and while it’s nowhere near as fun to drive as the (rear-wheel drive) BMW i3, it beats it hands down in terms of range. The little Zoe can be had with a 52 kWh battery pack that gives it 395 km or 245 miles of range on a single charge (according to the WLTP cycle) - that’s seriously impressive for a little car; its range is even better than that of some larger EVs with much larger battery packs and price tags.

Move up to a bigger size bracket, and you have even more EVs to choose from. Hyundai makes the Kona Electric, while its sister brand Kia will sell you the e-Niro. Both can be had with 64 kWh battery packs that bestow them with a range of around 450 km or 280 miles.

Even the Nissan Leaf, which in its first generation struggled to go more than 100 km or 62 miles on one charge has a decent range in its latest incarnation. The Leaf e+ has a WLTP-certified range of 384 km or 239 miles on a single charge of its 62 kWh battery pack.

VW recently entered the EV world with its first purpose-built all-electric model, the Golf-sized ID.3, the first of several models built on the same underpinnings. Volvo’s Polestar division is on the verge of launching the Polestar 2 that’s also about the same size, although it will be a more performance-minded offering.

It seems that vehicles larger than the Leaf are the most common out of the current crop of EVs. I won’t mention any of the Tesla models in this article, because they’re still the leaders when it comes to range and performance and if there is one manufacturer that has brought EVs closer to the mainstream than others, it’s Tesla.

Porsche has just launched its first-ever EV, and it’s a great-looking sedan that is great to be in and great to drive. In fact, it’s nicer inside than any current Tesla and it also has a range that comes close to what Tesla offers; oh, and you really can’t beat the image of a car with a Porsche badge - the Taycan is a serious competitor for Tesla and its existence is proof that EVs are becoming mainstream.

The Taycan won’t be the only version of the car to be launched, as there’s also a wagon variant in the works, as well as a higher-riding crossover-esque version of that. Audi also has several vehicles planned with roughly the same underpinnings as the Taycan and its derivatives.

It chose to launch an all-electric SUV first, simply called the Audi e-tron, but more models will follow. A very similar tactic to Audi’s was adopted by Mercedes, whose first mass market EV, the EQC, is a crossover roughly the size of the conventional GLC high rider. And just like Audi, Mercedes will launch several models, including an all-electric S-Class equivalent model that is sure to turn the top end of the luxury EV segment on its head.

Jaguar’s i-Pace is another vehicle that blends range, performance and practicality to a point that really makes it a desirable vehicle, one that rivals conventional internal combustion-engined cars. It even has a direct rival, in the form of the Ford Mustang Mach-E, a good looking EV crossover with decent range and a huge infotainment screen inside.

And these are just some examples of mainstream manufactures making their first mass market EVs. These automakers are still somewhat reserved when it comes to fully ditching their internal combustion engines for electric motors, but in spite of what critics might say, the shift towards a world where there will only be electric new cars has begun.

The main problem that is keeping manufacturers from fully embracing EVs are battery packs. Sure, they’re becoming bigger, better and quicker-charging, but they still cannot match the versatility offered by a fuel-burning powertrain. The range of electric vehicles is steadily increasing, while charging times are decreasing, but we’ve not yet reached a point where they are sufficient to make the average buyer consider owning an EV.

There is literally nothing else holding EVs back from becoming the norm other than battery technology. But if any of the many possible breakthroughs that have been churned around in the rumor mill for the last few years (carbon nanotubes, solid state batteries or improved supercapacitors, among others) add another 50 percent range on what is currently possible and lower charge times to something comparable to filling up with gasoline, I think it will officially spell the demise of the internal combustion engine in cars.

Prices also need to come down though. Remember, EVs could have taken over the world from the turn of the 20th century, but gasoline-burning vehicles were preferred because of economics - oil had just been discovered and refined and they needed to use it for something (and gasoline-burning cars were cheaper and the had much greater range).

So I think it all boils down to whatever makes financial sense. Everything is a business these days and the car making is one of the biggest on the planet; you can’t expect an industry as big as this to shift from a power source it’s been using for over a century to something new that has drawbacks and results in a more expensive end product. EVs need an energy storage breakthrough to ensure they take over completely.

What we’re seeing right now is just the beginning of this shift, and manufacturers are still tepid in their efforts to make electric cars - they’re still putting most of their (vast) resources towards making internal combustion-engined vehicles.

Sure, it might seem like there are many choices for EVs that can replace a conventional car, but if you take a step back, you’ll see these battery-powered models are nowhere near as common on the road as they are when you browse through automotive webzine newsfeeds - EVs’ presence is much greater in the virtual world compared to the real world; they garner a lot of publicity because we’re still not really used to them existing at all (and being as good as they are today).


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